BOOM recruit Adam Cerra delivered an exciting glimpse of what he will add to Carlton's midfield in 2022, starring in the club's hard-fought practice match victory over St Kilda at Ikon Park on Thursday morning.
Cerra was the clear standout in a new-look Blues engine room, providing an injection of class and composure and winning plenty of the footy to help his new side to a closely run 9.13 (67) to 8.12 (60) win.
Carlton parted with pick No.6 to secure Cerra from Fremantle during last year's Continental Tyres AFL Trade Period, with the 22-year-old impressing with his clearance craft while drifting forward to kick two important second-half goals.
He linked up well with captain Patrick Cripps and free agent recruit George Hewett, who crossed from Sydney last year, with Zac Fisher also among the best having returned to the midfield over the summer.
Towering forward performances from Tim Membrey and Max King had helped St Kilda overturn an early 27-point deficit to lead at half-time, while Josh Battle was arguably the side's best player after switching into a lockdown defensive role this summer.
Battle marked Charlie Curnow throughout the morning and kept the Carlton gun goalless in an early tick for his pre-season role change, with Bradley Hill and Jack Sinclair also providing some impressive run and drive across half-back for the Saints.
Jade Gresham and Ben Paton completed successful comebacks after both had sustained long-term injuries last season, while Jack Higgins kicked two, but it was the Blues who had more depth to sneak home to victory with an improved second-half performance.
Cerra was the driver of that, but Hewett's influence also grew as the match wore on as Carlton's pair of new recruits – in addition to some nice defensive performances from Zac Williams and Nic Newman – led the Blues to victory.
Jack Silvagni kicked two goals, took a number of strong marks and provided a chop-out option in the ruck to press his case for a spot as the side's third tall in attack, but youngster Brodie Kemp was also exciting and finished with one major.
Carlton youngster Corey Durdin produced a lively display in attack, staking his claim to play round one with an impressive performance that featured plenty of forward pressure. Fellow round one smoky Jordan Boyd played across half-back for the Blues, providing some nice drive with his long kicking. Developing ruckman Alex Mirkov only featured after half-time, but jumped well. Cooper Sharman spent most of his time forward for St Kilda, but did a few nice things when pushed into the ruck. Rookie hopeful Jack Hayes only played the second half and rotated between the ruck and the forward line.
St Kilda sprung a few changes, with Josh Battle's move into the backline providing the most promise. He blanketed Charlie Curnow throughout the morning and took a number of intercept marks to finish as one of the game's most impressive players. Bradley Hill's move to half-back also gave the Saints an injection of run and class, while Mason Wood spent small periods playing on a wing. As anticipated Carlton used Mitch McGovern in defence, but he wasn't able to float across and intercept as much as he might have liked. Brodie Kemp played forward in the absence of Harry McKay and marked strongly, having started his career with the Blues in the backline.
The only worry came when Charlie Curnow limped from the field late in the game, having clutched at his troublesome knee following a marking contest. But he was later seen smiling on the sidelines. Otherwise, Carlton is confident Harry McKay (foot) will be fit for round one, but Tom De Koning (blood clot) and Liam Stocker (syndesmosis) are racing the clock to return. Jack Martin (conditioning) and Lachie Plowman (conditioning) should play in the AAMI Community Series next week, while Sam Walsh (syndesmosis) is still a long-term proposition. St Kilda is hopeful Dan Hannebery (conditioning) will get a VFL hit-out under his belt before the season, while Paddy Ryder (managed), Rowan Marshall (managed) and Dougall Howard (managed) are a chance to return next week. Jarryn Geary (shoulder) is touch-and-go to play round one.
Given he has dual position status, George Hewett ($537K MID/DEF) could be a valuable point-of-difference option this season. The free agent recruit from Sydney will play entirely through the midfield at Carlton, adding plenty of industry and effort on Thursday. He's a tackle and clearance player, while he can also rack up the footy and won plenty of his own ball against St Kilda.
CARLTON 5.3 5.8 8.12 9.13 (67)
ST KILDA 2.1 6.8 6.9 8.12 (60)
Carlton: Silvagni 2, Cerra 2, Owies 2, Kennedy, Durdin, Kemp
St Kilda: Higgins 2, Membrey, Campbell, Wood, Butler, King, Steele